Everyone involved in politics knows that there is almost nothing the president can do to affect the price of gasoline. Democrats know this. Republicans know this. People in the oil industry certainly know this. But they all, at various times, play a game in which they try to deceive the American public into believing something they know to be false. So right now, an oil industry group is running ads saying the high price of gas is Barack Obama's fault (you'll be shocked to hear that the ubiquitous Koch brothers are involved). Republican leaders are saying the increasing price at the pump is Obama's fault. And what about the public? Are they buying it?
The polls we've seen so far actually show that the answer is, not really. A CNN poll asked how much blame people assigned to various factors, and the oil companies came in first, with 55 percent saying they deserved a great deal of blame. "The policies of the Obama administration" got a great deal of blame from 24 percent, just about equal to the 21 percent who placed a great deal of blame on "the policies of the Republicans in Congress." In fairness, the Republicans in Congress don't have much way to affect the price of gas, either, but if that's the most blame you can get assigned to the president, then your attempts at blaming him aren't getting much traction.
And a Washington Post poll suggests the public might actually be getting smarter on this question. Take a look at this graph:
There are a number of factors that could account for the difference—as the Post suggests, Americans might have attributed some of the high prices in 2006 to the Iraq War, which was George W. Bush's enterprise. It could also have to do with the fact that Bush and his vice-president both came from the oil industry, so some people might have concluded that if they wanted prices to be lower they could have made it happen. Whatever the cause, the fact is that Bush was blamed largely unfairly for high prices by far more people than today blame Obama unfairly.
We do, in fact, have a fairly simple battle of competing talking points going on right now. Democrats say: Domestic production is higher than it's been in years, and besides, oil is a global commodity, traded on global markets. A boost in drilling here at home, as Republicans want, would have only the tiniest effect on prices. Republicans say: Obama hates oil! He stopped the Keystone pipeline! Solyndra! Steven Chu once said high gas prices were a good thing! You may think I'm exaggerating, but that's pretty much what they're saying.
Far be it from me to suggest that the American people might be capable of listening to two sides make their case, then making the rational and factually correct judgment that one side is just full of it. But it's just possible that could be happening.